City Councils in Philadelphia and Other Major Cities

Feb 02, 2011

Members of Los Angeles’ city council draw the biggest salaries, those in San Antonio the smallest. Philadelphia’s city council members have been in office the longest and San Diego’s and Houston’s the shortest. The council in Detroit spends the highest percentage of the overall city budget on its own operations, the one in New York the lowest.

These are just some of the findings of City Councils in Philadelphia and Other Major Cities: Who Holds Office, How Long They Serve, and How Much It All Costs. The report compares 15 city councils, including the 10 largest, along a number of quantifiable measures. Among these items are council budgets, staffing, salaries, certain electoral conditions, tenure and the representation of historically underrepresented groups.

The following interactive graphic shows how each of the 15 cities compared as of Dec. 31, 2010:

 

Explanations & Sources 

The 17 current members of Philadelphia City Council have served longer, on average, than their peers in 14 other big cities, and they comprise Philadelphia’s longest-tenured council in at least the past six decades.

At 15.5 years, Philadelphia’s average council tenure at the end of 2010 was approached only by Baltimore and Chicago at roughly 13 years each. In Philadelphia, first-term members held only 18 percent of the seats; they held more than a third in most of the other cities studied. Council President Anna Verna has been in office 35 years, longer than any other Philadelphia City Council member since at least 1920, and two other members have served for more than 30 years.

Longevity, which can be both a positive and a negative force in government, is one of a number of measurable characteristics of city councils that The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative examined in the nation’s 10 most populous cities plus five other large cities chosen because of their similarity and/or proximity to Philadelphia. They are Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, San Diego, San Jose and Washington, in addition to Philadelphia.

Among the other key findings are these:

  • The Los Angeles City Council spends the most per seat, about $1.7 million, and Pittsburgh the least, about $226,000. The 15 councils cost local tax-payers a median of about $607,000 per seat this past year, the biggest part of which was salaries and benefits for staff and members. The Philadelphia City Council’s 2011 budget for staff salaries, employee benefits and operations was roughly $1.1 million per seat, sixth highest among the cities. On a per-resident basis, Washington, which functions as a city, county and state, spent the most on its council, $32.41, while Phoenix spent the least, $2.10. Philadelphia has one council employee (including members) for every 7,900 city residents compared with 1 for 13,500 across all the cities studied.
  • Detroit’s council consumes 1.01 percent of city general-fund spending, the largest among the cities studied. New York’s 0.10 percent is the lowest. Across all 15 cities, the median is 0.46 percent of total general-fund spending. That share changed little through the recession (fiscal 2008 to 2011) for many of the cities including Philadelphia, which is at 0.50 percent. After inflation, seven of the councils reduced their own budgets during the period, led by Phoenix’s 33 percent cut, while seven recorded increases.
  • Los Angeles has the highest average salaries for council members, $178,789, and San Antonio has the lowest, a maximum of only $1,400 per member. The average council salary in Philadelphia is $121,107, fourth-highest out of the 15 councils studied. 
  • The size of city councils ranges from 51 seats in New York and 50 in Chicago, to 17 in Philadelphia, to just eight seats in San Diego. Relative to local populations, Los Angeles has the smallest council, with just one seat for every 255,500 residents. Pittsburgh has the biggest, one seat per 34,600 residents. Philadelphia’s 91,000 residents per seat is at the middle of the pack.

Philadelphia Research Initiative has obtained copies of financial disclosure forms for members of Philadelphia City Council for the past three years. Among other things, the forms show outside jobs that some Council members have held while in office.

Philadelphia City Council Financial Disclosure Forms 

Errata 

The following errors were found subsequent to the release of the report.  They have been corrected in the online PDF.

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